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Full text of "The Gay Genius"

Chapter Nineteen
EMPRESS'S   FAVOURITE

CU TUNGPO always had luck with empresses. The empress of
^Jentsung had saved his life during the trial. The empress of
Ingtsung now promoted him to power. Even later in his life, if it
had not been for another empress, wife of Shentsung, ruling as regent,
he would have died outside China in exile.

The new emperor now was a boy of nine, and it was his grandmother
who became the regent. The Sung dynasty was unusually fortunate in
having a succession of good empresses. In the great Han and Tang
dynasties, some wives of the emperors either usurped the throne and
ruled through powerful eunuchs and relatives of their maiden families,
or otherwise succeeded in bringing about the fall of the imperial house.
In the time of Su Tungpo, however, the wives of the four emperors
under whom he served were all good women, and some were remark-
able. Perhaps it was because they were women that they were able to
retain an elementary sense of right and wrong and a simple, clear-cut
judgment of the good and bad men at the court. For while living in
the palace, they did not hear enough about the scholars* involved and
learned arguments over policies to be confused by them, and yet they
heard enough to know the general trend of public opinion, Modern
democracy with universal 'suffrage is based upon the judgment of the
common man, who often cannot follow a New Yorf^ Times editorial.
The Empress's judgments were those of the common man. In his last
days the previous emperor had already begun to retrench on his policies,
but he could do nothing like what his mother now did. As soon as the
Emperor died, the Empress Dowager recalled Szema Kuang to power
and at once effected a complete reversal of policies. Practically all of
Wang Anshih's measures were suspended or abolished. The reign of
Yuanyu had begun.

Su Tungpo now had a quick, dramatic rise to power. Within eight
months of his arrival at the capital he was promoted three times.
According to the ancient system, official posts were graded according
to a uniform system of ranks, from one to nine. In this short period he
rose from the seventh rank, passing through the sixth, jumping to the
fourth, and ending with a third rank as hanlin academician in charge
of drafting imperial edicts, at the age of forty-nine.

Before he was promoted to hanlin, he was already serving, in March
1086, as a fourth-rank secretary of the premier's office. It was a very
important post, for he had to take part in the selection and

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